The co-founder of the McKellar Island Bird Observatory says the station banded a record-low number of birds this fall – but John Woodcock says the likely explanation doesn't appear to be cause for concern.
The observatory banded a total of 938 birds of 63 species this fall, compared with a mean total of 2,302 birds of 67 species over the previous five years, according to its Facebook page. The diversity of species did not change significantly.
Woodcock was initially surprised by the numbers, he said, especially considering the observatory banded a record-high number of birds this spring – a total of 991 birds of 63 species, compared to an average of 324 birds of 43 species over the previous five years, according to the Facebook page.
Many observatories noticed a similar trend, he said.
"What us ornithologists were thinking was that it was a poor breeding season," he said when asked about the cause of the decline. "But that was difficult to understand because all across these monitoring stations in the boreal forest, there was an abundance of food last summer, and if there's an abundance of food, you should have an abundance of young birds being produced."
Currently, bird experts believe the cause of the decline was precisely that abundance of food, he added.
"Usually at the end of the breeding season the adults are kind of worn down," he said. "They've been feeding all these hungry mouthfuls in their nests all day, and they tend to be worn down. But this year perhaps they were all quite healthy and fit and were thus able to migrate early and perhaps fly longer distances than they usually would."
Bird experts are still concerned with the decline in insect-eating birds over the past few decades, Woodcock said, noting that the population of insectivores is down 60 per cent since 1970.
"And perhaps fear of seeing that happening is what triggered us all to be kind of worried about the results of this fall," he said, "but it was kind of a false alarm."
Woodcock likened the loss of insectivores to a literal canary-in-a-coal-mine scenario, a warning that society needs to change its behaviour lest it harm the planet irreparably.
He's encouraging people to eat organic food where possible to combat the decline in insects that feed the insect-eating species.
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